It’s a story of people who denied knowing him. It’s a story of abandonment as his friends were no where to be seen. It’s a story of a mob crying out for his execution. It’s a story of an unjust trial, manipulated by leaders in his community. Leaders who are supposed to be representatives of His Father.
It is an incredibly powerful story. A story of a Son who died for many, many people. It’s a story of love, a love from our Father in heaven who allowed His Son to die on our behalf.
A story we wish never had to happen. But God’s love is so great He wouldn’t have it any other way.
This isn’t a story of discipline from an angry, vengeful father. This is a story of love.
Jesus, being fully human and fully God knew this was the only way to show the depth of God’s love for His people. So he willingly went to the cross to show it.
Throughout this week we’ve been looking at the different meanings of the cross which have been identified by scripture and theologians for the last 2000 years.
Today, I’ve been asked to look at atonement.
I’m going to read from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans.
For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. (22-24)
Atonement can be a bit of a tricky term to deal with. Some use reconciliation instead, in that we are reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.
To atone means to “make amends”, to repair a wrong. In Biblical terms it mean to remove the guilt of humankind.
In the cross, Christ was an atoning sacrifice, that is, he took away our sin. He made things right with God for those who are faithful. Those who follow Jesus Christ.
There are different aspects of atonement. Some more popular than others.
One of the more popular is “Christus Victor”, where Jesus Christ won the battle over evil on our behalf. In the cross, and especially in his resurrection, Jesus defeated the devil and the sin of the world. In the war between good and evil, God wins!
There is also something called moral influence. Whereby having faith in Jesus Christ, our outlook on the world is changed. We see the world differently and begin to act in ways which Jesus taught. We help the poor, we feed the hungry, we clothe the naked. We become more Christ-like in our actions, because we understand his teachings and the importance of helping those in need.
Another aspect of atonement is what some call Incarnational Incorporation. Jesus enters into the suffering of the world and walks with us in that suffering. Jesus is with those in cancer wards, ICUs, prison camps, refugee camps, places of intense pain and suffering.
Yet another aspect of atonement is Transactional. Jesus took our place. Our sin, our failures, the punishment we deserve all were placed upon him on the cross. He took it all for us, so we would not have to.
It may seem odd to have different interpretations or meanings of atonement. But when you think about it, when we are talking about making amends, making things right again, each interpretation has its use.
Think of a handyman, someone who is good at fixing lots of things. How useful would this person be if you asked him to come and fix your kitchen sink and he showed up with only a hammer?
So you ask him, “Where’s your wrench?”
“What wrench? All I need is this hammer!”
You might be getting a little worried at this point, no?
God has many tools at His disposal when He brings people into relationship with Him. And yes, some people might even need hammers.
What sort of relationship does a good young woman graduating from college, who is settling into a career and a family, what does she need? What kind of Saviour will speak to her? She may relate to the moral influence. A Saviour who challenges her way of thinking, asking her to do more for the vulnerable in her community.
What about the drug addict? How might God reach out to that person. A living hell of cycles of addiction, poverty and pain. Maybe a God who suffers in that pain with him. Maybe the incarnational Christ speaks to that person.
It’s important we know how God uses many different avenues to make Himself known to the world, and yet they are all seen in Jesus Christ. And they can all be found in the cross. What works for me, may not work for you.
However, not matter how you look at it, Jesus died for you.
He died to make you a better person.
He died to show you he also feels your pain.
He died to defeat the evil in this world.
He died to save you from your sin.
Jesus is the son of God. Jesus is the love of God made known in this world. Jesus is the Saviour, the Messiah, the one we all look to in times of need.
Atonement, the process of God making things right through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Stacey told us earlier in the week she likes word play, and I quite liked her take on justification. “Jesus makes it just as if I’ve never sinned.”
Well, atonement can be looked like this:
“Atonement – A. T. O. N. E. M. E. N. T.”
At – One – Ment
In the cross, Jesus reconciles those who believe in him to God.
He makes us, AT ONE with God in that moment.
At – One – Ment
What reconciles you with God?
There’s a story of a successful businessman. After a long week of meetings and travelling, he was at home Saturday night and decided he needed a few drinks. Then maybe a couple more. His daughter came up to him and said she was singing in a choir in church the next morning, would he come and watch?
Well, what father could turn down a request like that from his little girl?
The next morning, he had second thoughts about going, waking up with a hangover and all. But he went.
In that service, he heard how Jesus Christ took upon the sin of the world as he hung on that cross. And how he died in our place.
As the preacher spoke, the man began to reflect on his life. How his business dealings weren’t always the most ethical. How his drinking had impacted his family. How his constant travel distanced himself from his wife and daughter. How his sin had taken over his life. His pride, his ego, his drive for the almighty dollar, his drinking… all of it. He realized he was in need of Jesus Christ, and gave his life to Christ that very service.
In Jesus Christ, God brings people to himself. He speaks to us in our own ways, in our own needs.
At – One – Ment.
At one… with God… in Jesus Christ.
The atoning sacrifice, in his blood, not as a form of divine punishment, but in an act of love. He loves us so much, Jesus gave his own life to show it.
Could there have been another way?
Possibly. But it didn’t work.
In Leviticus (16:29-30 and 23:27-28) there was to be a day set aside. The 10th day of the 7th month would be set aside as a day of atonement. No one would do any work, it would be a day to offer sacrifices to God for their sin. But it didn’t seem to be enough. It didn’t build their relationship with God. People kept sinning, they stopped honouring the day of atonement, it was eventually forgotten.
No, God had to do something that people would never forget. He had to show his love was far greater than anything we could ever imagine. He showed how much HE was willing to sacrifice for us.
He gave his son.
Something far greater than what we could ever offer to him.
Did you know we island we live on is voted one of the most beautiful islands in the world every year? Tourism publications regularly rank the top islands, and this year Travel and Leisure magazine ranked Cape Breton as the number ONE island destination in North America! Ahead of Vancouver Island and PEI. But we also were ahead of places like Hawaii! But even better in some ways, we were the number THREE island to visit in the WORLD! Only Bali and the Galapagos islands were ahead of us in this poll.
I have to confess. I know we live in a beautiful place, but how often do we stop and drink it in? We have some of the most beautiful drives on the planet. We have the best music. We have incredible hospitality. But sometimes we take it for granted. In a sense we’ve become numb to the beauty around us. We see it every day. It is the normal for us, and normal, no matter how extraordinary it is, can become just another day in our lives.
Jesus has given us an extraordinary gift. He sacrificed his life for us. All so we could know God’s love and enter into a relationship with him.
Somedays we forget just how extraordinary this gift is. We become numb or complacent in our lives, because it’s just another day.
Jesus, in giving his life, has made things right. There was nothing we could ever do to match what he has done for us. People tried for thousands of years, but it was never, ever enough.
Only God could make it right.
And so Jesus came into the world.
He lived, he taught, he healed, and he told us of the kingdom of God.
And then he showed us the incredible gift of life God wishes us to share in. He did this in his death on the cross. He was willing to go that far so you would know how much God loves you.
Again, as Paul wrote to the Romans:
For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.
We who follow Jesus Christ our Lord have been justified by his grace in his redemptive act in making us at one moment, right with God.
What a gift.
What a God.
Thanks be to God. Amen.